‘Heavenly Gingers 9’ will be last show of its kind

‘Heavenly Gingers 9’ will be last show of its kind

Organizers plan to change up future memorial fundraisers after March 26 event

LINCOLN – After nine years of hosting a fundraiser to memorialize their daughters who died too young, organizers of “Heavenly Gingers” say the pain hasn’t gotten any easier over time.

The stage show that features dance, music, and comedy was created to honor the lives of Keri Anne O’Donnell, who was 15 when she died in a car accident in July 2010, and Jessica Morris, who died in August 2008 at the age of 20 from ovarian cancer.

Jessica was the daughter of John and Kathie Hagen Morris, and Keri was the daughter of Frank and Karen O’Donnell.

After this year’s event, which will take place on Tuesday, March 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, the show will not go on next year – at least not in its current format.

“It gets a little harder every year,” said Frank O’Donnell, a comedian and writer for The Valley Breeze. “Time does not heal anything. It’s more difficult to get up there.”

“Losing a kid is not something that goes away ever,” Kathie Morris told The Breeze.

Wanting to honor their red-headed daughters and their passion for dance and performing, the O’Donnell and Morris families created “Heavenly Gingers” as a way to keep the girls’ memories alive but also to help young people pursue their performing dreams.

Approximately 400 people attended the first fundraiser.

“It helps us keep Keri alive in a very small way. I know the Morrises feel the same way,” O’Donnell said. “It reminds us of what they loved to do. Sadly, it also reminds us that they’re not here.”

All proceeds from the fundraisers go to Jessie’s Dream and the Keri Anne O’Donnell Memorial Fund, which provide grants and scholarships to young performers who need financial assistance to pursue their passion for performing arts.

“I do believe that this is the girls’ legacy,” O’Donnell said.

Over the years, they’ve raised more than $120,000 and over 100 kids have benefited from the funds, he said.

The money has allowed kids to attend Camp Broadway at the Providence Performing Arts Center, the Gamm’s Summer Intensive, the YASI program at Trinity Rep, as well as dance, voice, acting and music lessons.

“(Jessie) never got to pursue her dream of going on to dance professionally or even continue teaching,” said Morris, who owns Kats Dance Centre in Pawtucket, where Jessie used to dance and teach. “By giving these kids the opportunity to do something in the arts, especially if they don’t have the means to do it … we’re keeping her dream alive. That’s why it’s called Jessie’s Dream.”

O’Donnell said they also provide scholarships to graduating seniors at the girls’ alma maters, Lincoln High School and North Providence High School.

This year’s show, which is family-friendly, will feature performances by dance members from Kats Dance Centre, the North Providence High School Treble Makers, the North Providence High School cast of “Legally Blonde the Musical,” comedian Christine Hurley, and more.

O’Donnell and John Morris will emcee, and the girls’ siblings also play a part in the show.

“It’s a lot of fun,” O’Donnell said. “There’s a great feeling in the room … It’s uplifting and emotionally draining for us.”

The night also features raffle items, as well as silent and live auctions. For the sixth year, a young performer will receive a $1,000 Heavenly Gingers scholarship.

“We have had incredible community support,” O’Donnell said.

Two years ago, they hit their peak and have plateaued financially, he said. Not as many companies are donating prizes for the raffles and auctions.

“The way the economy is going, we haven’t had the support we’ve had in the past,” he said. “We felt like it’s a good time to move on to something else.”

Morris said she has mixed feelings about ending the fundraiser.

“It’s become a part of us … It’s been great while it’s lasted,” she said. “I am also looking forward to changing it up and doing something new. Hopefully it’s as successful as this has been.”

Next year, O’Donnell said, the families still plan to host a show, but it will be smaller and more focused on the scholarship recipients. “We have some incredible performers,” he said.

They want to hold it for one or two nights on a weekend, rather than a weeknight, to make it more accessible, he added.

Over the years, “Twin River has been amazing for all of this … They have not asked for a dime,” he said, but the venue will have to change next year because they won’t get the Event Center for free on a weekend.

Last year’s event drew just under 500 people. “We’re hoping to go out with a bang this year,” O’Donnell said. “We’re hoping we’ll get more people.”

“Heavenly Gingers 9” takes place on Tuesday, March 26, at the Twin River Event Center, 100 Twin River Road in Lincoln. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for kids and can be purchased at the door. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The show starts at 6:30 p.m.

Keri O'Donnell and Jessica Morris